90% of parents: My kid’s at grade level

Ninety percent of parents think their kids are performing at or above grade level in reading and math, according to a Learning Heroes survey. Welcome to Lake Wobegon.

Reading results broken out by student subset. Source: The Nation's Report Card

Parents held fast to this sunny belief no matter their own income, education level, race or ethnicity, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR. But most are wrong, according to the Nation’s Report Card, or NAEP.  Less than half of white students and less than a quarter of black and Latino students are on grade level by fourth grade.

“Build deeper relationships and ask tougher questions of your student’s teachers,” Learning Heroes founder Bibb Hubbard advises. “Instead of the teacher just saying, ‘He’s a great kid,’ ask, ‘Is he reading on grade level?’ ”

According to Parents 2016: Hearts and Minds of Public School Parents in an Uncertain World, 75 percent of K-8 parents surveyed also said a college education is “very important” or “absolutely essential” for their children.

Morgan Polikoff, who researches K-12 education policy at the University of Southern California, says the “Lake Wobegon effect” is actually no surprise.

“Kids are getting passed on from grade to grade, a large percentage of kids graduate high school on time,” he explains. “So certainly parents have been getting the message for a long time that their kids are doing just fine.”

Fewer than 2 percent of students are held back a grade, so perhaps parents can’t be blamed for thinking their own kids are at least on par with their peers,” writes Kamenetz.

Learning Heroes aims to inform parents about the Common Core, which it describes as ” a set of clear, consistent learning goals in mathematics and English language arts” and “new state tests that measure critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning skills that students need to be prepared for the next grade level.”

If Diddy can do it . . . Start your own schools

Sean “Diddy” Combs, shown giving the commencement speech at Howard University in 2014, is helping start a college-prep charter school in Harlem.

Chris Stewart, who writes as Citizen Stewart, isn’t an education expert, he writes. A former school board member in Minneapolis and a father, he’s a “civilian” with “questions about the gulf between what black kids – including my own – are capable of achieving, and what they are currently achieving.”

He has a question for academics and teachers who oppose school reform.

Why aren’t they establishing their own schools to demonstrate all they have learned about learning? Where is the Pedro Noguera Academy of Teaching Black Boys To Read and Write? Where is the Julian Vasquez Helig School of Succeeding With Marginalized Children? What about the Diane Ravitch Center for Graduating Literate and Numerate Children of Color?

Those schools don’t exist.

Linda Darling Hammond and her Stanford colleagues did start a school in 2005, partnering with a low-income, all-minority district. Despite the university’s resources and expertise, it failed, writes Stewart.

“Maybe this demonstrates that schools alone cannot solve the very deep problems kids bring to school,” wrote Diane Ravitch when the school failed. “You cannot assume that schools alone can raise achievement scores without addressing the issues of poverty, of homelessness and shattered families.”

That’s “system-preserving, elitist nonsense,” writes Stewart. Then comes the rant:

It is one thing to speak from a vaulted perch where you are not responsible for a single kid, and preach the paleoliberal gospel of the one-best-system; to write missives against school reform as you cash under-the-table paychecks from reform funders; to sit on panels sponsored by education labor cartels and interrogate the motives of school reformers while never interrogating the motives of labor cartels; to put your own kids in private schools and then assail school choice as a misguided gift to the ignorant poor who won’t make decisions as well as you have; and to basically fill the world with useless pablum about thinking broader, bolder, more holistically, without focusing intensely on developing, administrating, delivering, and measuring the effectiveness of instruction and learning in the most important place, the classroom.

“The leaders of new schools . . . design, establish, and operate schools that fight the nihilistic, racist, and classist mantra that demography affixes melanated people without money to academic failure,” Stewart writes.

Hip hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is helping start a New York City charter middle and high school. Capital Prep Harlem, which opens in the fall with sixth and seventh graders, will share a building with El Museo Del Barrio in East Harlem. The Museum of the City of New York is next door.

Steve Perry, who created Capital Prep Magnet in Hartford, Connecticut, will oversee the replication of his year-round, college-prep model.

Teaching ‘manhood’ at school


Against a backdrop of role models, Ernest Jenkins III teaches a class at Oakland High School called “Mastering Our Cultural Identity: African American Male Image.” Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Hoping to lift achievement for black male students, Oakland (California) schools have hired black male teachers to teach African-American history and culture in what’s called the Manhood Development Project, reports Patricia Leigh Brown in the New York Times.

“The No. 1 strategy to reduce discipline issues is engaged instruction,”  says Christopher P. Chatmon, who runs the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement.

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few students in his Manhood Development class with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few Manhood Development students growing up with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Many students have grown up without a father or male role model. Students form strong relationships with teachers and the program also brings in black male professionals and college advisers.

Chatmon’s office compiles an honor roll of black students with a 3.0 average or better. Three years ago, only 16 percent were male. That’s risen to 25 percent.

China is looking for male teachers to teach manhood, reports Javier C. Hernnandez, also in the New York Times.

Lin Wei, 27, a male sixth-grade teacher in Fuzhou, tells stories about manly warlords and soldiers. “Men have special duties,” he said. “They have to be brave, protect women and take responsibility for wrongdoing.”

Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.

In Zhengzhou, a city on the Yellow River, schools have asked boys to sign pledges to act like “real men.” In Shanghai, principals are trying boys-only classes with courses like martial arts, computer repair and physics.

The motto of West Point Boys, an all-male summer camp in Hangzhou, in eastern China, is: “We bring out the men in boys.”

When Mark Judge was hired as the only male teacher at a Catholic K-8 school, the boys were ecstatic, he writes on Acculturated.

. . . the boys literally formed a circle around me and started jumping up and down. There were requests to play football, questions about cars, inquiries into my favorite baseball player, light punches (from them) on my shoulder.

The U.S. should “encourage more men to become the kind of teachers our boys need,” he concludes.

Texas, Florida do well with disadvantaged kids

Texas and Florida “turn out to be educational powerhouses once you adjust for student demographics,” according to Breaking the Curve, a new Urban Institute report.
How-to-Become-a-Teacher-in-Florida

Matt Chingos compared states’ NAEP scores based on students’ race, ethnicity, poverty levels and the percentage of English Learners.

Adjusted for students’ disadvantages, Massachusetts remains the highest-achieving state, followed by New Jersey. Texas and Florida leap up to the number three and four spots.

“Utah, which is about average based on test scores alone, slides nearly to the bottom when adjusted for demographics,” writes Vox’s Libby Nelson. Other low-scoring states on Chingos’ index are California, which is just above Utah, Hawaii, Alabama and West Virginia.

Core confusion? Math scores drop

Math scores are down in grades four and eight on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the first decline in 25 years. Only 40 percent of fourth graders and 33 percent of eighth graders were proficient or better.

Fourth-grade reading scores were flat with 36 percent of fourth graders scoring proficient or above. Thirty-four percent of eighth graders were reading at grade level or better, a slight decrease.

The transition to Common Core standards may explain the math decline, education officials told the New York Times. The largest score drops on the fourth-grade math exams were on data analysis, statistics and geometry questions, which are not covered in that grade under the new standards.

In addition, “about a quarter of public school students are Hispanic, compared with fewer than 10 percent in 1990,” notes the Times.  Only 21 percent of Hispanic fourth graders scored proficient or above on reading tests, compared with 46 percent of white students.

The proportion of African-American students in public schools has remained about the same.

The Asian advantage

Why do Asian-Americans do so well in school? asks Nicholas Kristof in a New York Times column. What’s the “Asian advantage?”

It’s not IQ, writes Brooks, citing Richard Nisbett’s book about intelligence.

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Chinese-American and white children with the same IQ scores were followed into adulthood by researchers. Fifty-five percent of the Chinese-Americans entered high-status occupations, compared with one-third of the whites, Nisbett writes. Chinese-Americans with a 93 IQ did as well as whites with a 100.

In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou note that many recent Asian immigrants are educated professionals. But working-class Asian-Americans tend to do well in school too. That’s certainly true of the children of the Vietnamese boat people.

The “model minority” may be a myth, but Asian kids walk into a math or science classroom knowing their teachers will expect them to excel.

Kristof credits the Confucian emphasis on education.

Immigrant East Asians often try particularly hard to get into good school districts, or make other sacrifices for children’s education, such as giving prime space in the home to kids to study.

There’s also evidence that Americans believe that A’s go to smart kids, while Asians are more likely to think that they go to hard workers.

Asian-American parents have high expectations for their children. A B is an “Asian F,” kids joke. (Kristof says A-, but I think that’s extreme.) And a B is “a white A.”

Asian-Americans also are likely to grow up in two-parent families.

“The success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education,” he concludes. “Ditto for the success of Jews, West Indians and other groups.”

But their success does not “suggest that the age of discrimination is behind us,” he argues. The “black boy in Baltimore who is raised by a struggling single mom, whom society regards as a potential menace” will not be reassured by the success of Asian-Americans. “Because one group can access the American dream does not mean that all groups can.”

Shouldn’t that kid be reassured by the success of West Indian blacks?

Study: KIPP boosts achievement

KIPP charter students make significantly larger gains in reading and math than similar students at traditional public schools, concludes a new Mathematica study. Most KIPP students come from low-income black and Hispanic families.

In Vanessa Chang's Kinder classroom, Jafet Arce pretends to be a health care worker taking blood during a guess the profession game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, in Houston.  Photo: Steven Gonzalez, Houston Chronicle

At Houston’s KIPP Connect, Vanessa Chang’s kindergarteners played a “guess the profession” game. Photo: Steven Gonzalez, Houston Chronicle

However, KIPP schools didn’t affect motivation, engagement or aspirations, despite the network’s stress on developing “grit,” notes Education Week.

2013 Mathematica study showed KIPP middle school students gained more learning in math, reading, science, and social studies than students in non-KIPP schools.

“Looking at the middle school results based on when the schools opened shows that the impact on students dipped between 2006 and 2010, and then rebounded,” reports Ed Week.

The dip coincided with the network’s rapid expansion. It now includes elementary and high schools, in addition to middle schools.

KIPP students may not seem more motivated, engaged or ambitious because they’re comparing themselves to other KIPP students, said Philip Gleason, a principal investigator.

KIPP students weren’t more likely to have high aspirations for college attendance and completion than their peers. But they were more likely to participate in college-preparation activities, such as having discussions about college, getting assistance in planning college, and applying to at least one school.

Students at no-excuses charters such as KIPP “improve significantly more in math and reading than similar students at traditional public schools, concludes a new meta-analysis. The model was especially effective in middle and high school.

Charters following other models showed smaller gains.

No ‘participation trophies’ for NFL player’s sons

When Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison discovered his sons had been awarded “participation” awards “for nothing,” he sent the trophies back and explained his actions on Instagram:

“Everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best … cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better … not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

A walk-on at Kent State, Harrison went undrafted in 2002 because he was considered to be too small for the pros, reports ESPN.  Harrison “played a season in NFL Europe and was cut by the Baltimore Ravens before latching on with the Steelers and becoming a force.”

More time may not mean more learning

Boston public schools will add 40 minutes to the teaching day at more than 50 elementary and middle schools.

More time doesn’t guarantee more learning, writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic. Quality matters as much as quantity, according to a new report from the Center on Education Policy.

Researchers analyzed 17 low-performing schools in 11 districts that expanded the school day. Test scores and graduation rates improved. But the longer day wasn’t the only change.

Successful schools used “community partnerships to provide extra enrichment programs and services the school’s budget couldn’t cover,” writes Richmond.

Teachers who have more opportunities to collaborate with each other tend to be more effective at their jobs, particularly in their work with students. “An hour of professional development seems to be almost as helpful to teachers, and in some cases more helpful, than an hour in the classroom,” said Matthew Frizzell, a policy center research associate and one of the report’s co-authors.

Boston schools with longer days have seen mixed results, reports the Boston Globe.

For many schools, a longer day has failed to dramatically boost academic achievement or did so only temporarily. The uneven results prompted school district officials to scrap the extra minutes at some schools and the state to pull funding or pursue receiverships at others.

But other schools have successfully used an extended day to boost MCAS scores or expand offerings in the arts and other electives.

“I think there are lessons to be learned,” said John McDonough, interim superintendent. “We know time matters, but it only matters if it is used well.”

At the Eliot K-8 Innovation School, which added an hour to its school day, there’s more time for enrichment, reports the Globe.

On Monday morning, 25 third-graders built and programmed motorized cars out of Legos in a robotics class. Students said they did not mind the longer school day.

“Time goes by fast,” said John D’Amico, 8.

As the students buzzed the cars around the classroom, their regular classroom teacher, Holly McPartlin, mentored a new teacher downstairs, observing her teach and then providing feedback.

Eliot is considered a model of good implementation. But the Edwards Middle School, once “the poster child for the success of the extended-day movement in Massachusetts,” has seen performance slide after “a high turnover of principals,” reports the Globe.

Singing their way to academic success

At Voice Charter School in Queens, K-8 students learn to read music, play a little piano, harmonize and “sing, sing, sing,” reports the New York Times. Voice students do significantly better in math and somewhat better in reading than the New York City average.

First graders sing in the winter concert at Voices Charter School in Queens.

First graders sing in the winter concert at Voice Charter School in Queens.

Seventy percent of Voice students qualified for free lunch last year. All are admitted by lottery. No one auditions.

Teacher Kate Athens said skills learned in music class translate to her fourth-grade classroom. “They learn to stick with something hard and breaking things down into steps,” she said. “And work together as a group at such a young age.”

Younger students at Voice usually have music twice a day, and older students once, on average. To make time, the “school day is unusually long, from 7:55 a.m. to 4:25 p.m., which can be hard for small children,” reports the Times.

Twenty percent of the city’s public schools have no arts teachers, and low-income students are the least likely to be taught art and music, reports the Times. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has increased funding for arts teachers.